James and Eoin started Faerly to do their part to help reduce unnecessary chemicals and plastics in the world. They are passionate about supporting local and Irish makers and over the years have made more and more sustainable changes in their own lives. They believe in helping others to make small, positive changes that are both life-enhancing and kind to the environment. We interviewed James to find out more.
1. How did Faerly come about? Was it purely a COVID project or something in the running before then?
I had an idea in my head for a long time but lockdown certainly gave me the time and space to really explore it and from that bring Faerly to life. I started thinking about it seriously in March of 2020 at the start of the first lockdown and by May I had decided to go for it and started setting up the business in earnest. I did a ‘Start Your Own Business Course’ online with my Local Enterprise Office and that helped with a framework for planning the business.
Growing up in a family retail business I always had a love of retail and entrepreneurship from an early age. I’ve spent the last ten years working in a large multinational and that was a fantastic experience too but setting up my own business was an itch that needed to be scratched.
2. Can you tell us a bit about the name Faerly and where the name came from?
Like most startups there wasn’t really any budget for branding so we came up with the name and brand ourselves. I had been playing around with different names and none of them felt quite right.
In the end it actually just came up unexpectedly one day and a little bit like the Goldilocks and the three bears, it felt ‘just right’. Faerly doesn’t mean anything as such which is an advantage in terms of availability. It is a play on ‘Fair’ as ethical sourcing is core to our ethos. The letter combination of ‘ae’ is common in Irish and Scandinavian languages and we’re influenced a lot by Scandinavian lifestyles and design. Overall we hope it feels warm and familiar, while being unique enough to give us scope to develop the brand over time.
3. Why did you decide to create Faerly as a sustainable brand?
Sustainability has become more and more important to us personally over the years. I had felt a draw for a few years to align my career more closely to my own values. For the last few years I had been feeling increasingly at odds with some of the established wisdom about digital marketing, retailing and business growth. I think we’re seeing a shift now and unsustainable consumption and trends like fast fashion are no longer being automatically seen as a good thing.
I wanted to share some of the products that we’d found in our lives that had worked well for us. I felt there was a gap in the market for a retail offering that is sustainable by design but where the products can stand on their own in terms of function and aesthetic too. We believe that the products we sell will enhance our customers’ lives with the added bonus of being kind to our environment.
I admire initiatives like Kilkenny’ Group’s leadership of Champion Green in creating an initiative that benefits not only themselves but a whole ecosystem of producers, smaller retailers and consumers.
4. When creating Faerly, how much time and energy went into the branding and identity? How important was this in order to succeed?
We put more time and energy into creating our brand values and principles first and making sure we knew what we were about before we started work on the brand. Before we launched the majority of the effort went into product sourcing, setting up the practicalities of the business and preparing the website for launch. Most of the branding we kept very simple and with a very modest investment. For now, I’m more focused on getting our customer touchpoints right. Things like photography, product descriptions, SEO and positive customer reviews are more of a focus for us right now in terms of brand development than developing the visual identity.
5. Who are your target audience?
Our customer base is primarily female and across all ages. We try to speak to customers who are interested in making sustainable changes in their own lives. We find all our customers are at a different point in this journey and we try to meet them wherever they are at.
6. Is Faerly more of a one-time purchase or is it something people can keep coming back to?
We’re still less than a year old so time will time but we are very happy with the level of return business we’ve had so far.
7. How do you pick your ‘makers’? Is there a vetting process to ensure their values align with Faerly’s?
We’re lucky that we’re small enough that we don’t need a huge amount of formalities in this process yet. We can usually get a feel for a potential supplier very quickly, and know if their products and values align to ours. We have a set of principles that we share with our suppliers to make sure we’re a fit for each other. We avoid products with unnecessary plastic packaging and chemicals and generally if we can source something in Ireland, we will do that, rather than shipping it in from abroad.
8. When did you realise that Faerly could actually become a full-time job?
We started off as many businesses do, part-time and from the spare bedroom and it became clear pretty early on that it wasn’t going to be sustainable to do that for long. The house was like Del Boy’s flat for a while! We’ve since built a dedicated workspace behind our house and moved the business there and we’ve recently extended that to add more storage space.
I was very lucky with my employer at the time, Glanbia, who really supported me and couldn’t have been more encouraging about setting up the business. I moved to part- time hours in 2021 and gradually transitioned out of my role and into Faerly full time. This allowed me the space to build up Faerly for six months before making the jump fully.
9. What are your main platforms for keeping in touch with your customers and reaching new ones?
As an online only business, our website is our shopfront and we rely on Google, both paid and organic to find new customers and drive traffic to the site. Our email marketing is key to customer retention, both newsletters and automated emails. Social media is a growing area for us but this area can be time consuming so we do have to limit the time we invest in it at the moment. It’s not where we want it to be yet but Rome wasn’t built in a day.
10. What marketing strategy have you found works best?
Currently I’m focused in particular on Google Ads and Search Engine Optimization to achieve both short term and longer term goals. Investment in Google ads gives immediate results which is very helpful for a young business like ours. SEO is a longer term strategy and we’re starting to see some very positive results from this.
11. Was or is there any part of the entire Faerly process you outsource or is it all done in house? E.g., imagery, packaging, finance etc.
As an online business we’re able to conduct most of our business online. Setting up during lockdown meant we met with and listed all of our suppliers without ever meeting them face to face. Around 70% of our stock and packaging is sourced in Ireland. We keep all our fulfillment in house and our delivery partner is DPD, we really like how progressive they are in terms of sustainability. As much as possible we try to take out manual activities and we automate as much as we can as we’re such a small team.
12. Do you plan to expand or keep it a small, family run venture?
For now our ambition is to stay small, but with an ambition to grow the business over time. We don’t want to grow for the sake of it. If we can grow in a sustainable way, and grow our positive impact at the same time, that’s the goal for us. Our aim is to create a sustainable and profitable business that supports a network of other small Irish makers and ethical brands.
13. Will you continue to add new products or stick to a few core bestsellers?
We’re adding new products all the time. We’ve doubled our product range since we launched last October and we’ll probably double it again over the coming months. Watch this space!
14. What has been the hardest thing about starting a new online retail business?
Brexit has been a real pain in the &%€! Covid related supply chain issues have been a challenge of course but Brexit has been much more frustrating as it is so unnecessary. For a small business like ours the challenges to offer a seamless service to the UK are huge. Even bigger, more established companies are still not selling into the UK because of challenges they’re facing post Brexit.
15. And the best?
My husband’s lockdown project was to build a pond in our garden and it’s right across from my office window. Now that I work from the garden, I swapped a long commute to a pretty soulless business park, for a stroll down to my office where I can look out at the pond all day and watch the world go by. It’s really hard to beat.
Going from a large corporate environment to a micro enterprise has also been refreshing in many ways. You do miss out on the big support network but as a smaller business we can be much more agile as we don’t have the complexity of legacy systems and complicated stakeholder management.
16. Is there anything you would have done differently? Any key learnings at this early stage in your online retail brand?
I’m sure there’s lots we could have done differently but at the end of the day, you can get caught up in planning for every eventuality and never get going. I would say keep things simple and consistent. That’s been our mantra from the beginning and I’ve found it helpful because by nature I would be after the next ‘shiny thing’, it helps keep me focused. Don’t look backwards!
17. How important was it to have previous experience in the digital and retail world prior to launching Faerly?
It’s certainly been a help. I’ve been involved in Ecommerce for more than 20 years. Our first ecommerce website was on the old Buy4Now platform with SuperQuinn and Eason and I’ve seen the ecommerce landscape change completely since then. I’ve worked on websites that were a nightmare to run and a real money pit for the business, to award winning sites turning over millions and and I’ve learned something from all of them.
Honestly, it’s gotten a lot easier for non-specialists to succeed in Ecommerce. Platforms like Shopify are world class and don’t require a huge upfront spend or technical knowledge to use them. Apps are available now for a few Euro a month delivering functionality that would have cost hundreds of thousands of Euro just a few years ago. It’s leveled the playing field and there’s no reason now why small online retailers can’t compete effectively with the bigger players.
18. Any advice for anyone looking to take the plunge into self-employment or create an online retail brand from scratch?
Do it. There’s never a perfect time and you’ll never be fully ready. My advice is to jump in and start. Start small and build it up from there. Action creates momentum so keep moving forward and opportunities will present themselves. You’ll never feel your site is ready, so just launch and figure it out as you go. You don’t need to have everything figured out to start selling. But, don’t underestimate the work involved, it will be all consuming. But fun!
19. Any last thoughts or future plans for Faerly?
Some good advice I got once was not to be afraid to ask for the sale. With that in mind, we’d love to show you what we’re about. Check us out at faerly.ie!